Between The Lines
by C. Jerry Ueberall
Summary: Troy gets a letter. From Dietrich?
Notes: This story was first published 1998 in Flanking Maneuvers # 2 , a Rat Patrol slash zine by Lindberg's Legacy Press.
Series/Sequel: Second in the Pebble series. Sequel to Arena of Death
Troy stopped and waited for Moffitt to reach him. "What's the problem?"
"I have a message for you," the Englishman replied, giving him a letter.
The American opened the envelope, took the small card out and read it. "Who gave you that?"
Moffitt raised his eyebrows. "You know, it's from one of those sources who don't want to be mentioned or even known."
"Trustworthy?" Troy asked briskly.
"Yes. But not infallible."
The leader of the Rat Patrol frowned. "Did you read it?"
Troy didn't seem surprised. "What do you think of it?"
"The sender wants a meeting with you. You especially and alone. He gives a place and a time. Nothing more. I think whatever it means depends on who is the writer and if you do trust him." Moffitt's hazel eyes locked with his friend's. "It's Dietrich, isn't it? The signature HD?"
"I don't know. I can't think of anybody else with those initials who would send a note this way, but I can't be sure. I've never seen his handwriting before. This could be anybody!" He scrutinized the letter and the envelope from all sides. "Didn't your source say anything?"
"He said he got it from a German officer and was told to bring it to you without telling anybody."
"How come you got it?"
Moffitt grinned. "He knows me. You are just one of the men with me."
The American grimaced, but didn't comment on that.
"You think it's genuine?" Moffitt asked, studying his companion intensely. "What would he want?"
"That's the question, isn't it?" Troy stared at the letter as if he hoped it would just disappear again. "Sharing slavery brought us close together; I owe him a lot. But we never talked about exchanging letters, never talked about staying in contact after we had escaped. Actually we never talked about an 'after' at all. We lived day by day, with some thoughts to the past but never to the future. Certainly not a future that put us on different sides again. I think we just took it for granted that if we escaped, the status quo would re-establish itself."
"Maybe he wants to defect?" Moffitt suggested.
"That would be the day. But then he could just stage his capture. He certainly knows how to find us, doesn't he? No, this letter doesn't make sense." Troy stopped and shook his head. Scenes of the past played before his inner eye. Dietrich and him chained to each other, surrounded by slave traders - Dietrich lying in his arms, the brown eyes burning with fever - the feeling of Dietrich's hands on his body, his kisses ...
"Troy?" Moffitt's voice cut through his memories. "I asked if it could be a trap?"
"Not from Dietrich, no. But we don't know if he's the sender or not." Sighing, Troy put the letter into his pocket and looked at his fellow sergeant. "If it's a trap, then I wonder who it's for, Dietrich or me?"
"Both?" Moffitt suggested. "If you go you might be suspected being a traitor, if Dietrich shows up ..."
"It's proven that I'm a traitor."
"And Dietrich too."
"Yeah. If he too got a letter."
"And if he decides to come." The last was said in a questioning tone.
An ironical smile crossed Troy's features. "He'll be there. If he got such a message you can bet on it. And so will I."
"Why?" Moffitt wondered. "If it's a trap you'll both get hanged. Why risk your life that way?"
"For the same reason he'll be there. Because if it's a trap, then I want him to know I have no hand in it, and the only way to tell him is to be there."
Moffitt shook his head in disbelief. "You're crazy."
"So I've been told," Troy commented dryly and walked away.
"I can't think of a reason why Sergeant Troy should send me such a message. It has to be a fake." Dietrich looked at his orderly cautiously, yet the young man held his gaze.
"I agree, Herr Hauptmann, but why should anyone think that you would meet with the American sergeant?"
Dietrich ended his glare and sighed. "Because somebody suspects that I'm a traitor and that Troy is my contact."
His orderly didn't even blink. "But you aren't a traitor!" he said with conviction.
The Hauptmann smiled. For reasons he didn't know the young man worshipped him, had done so from the beginning and had proven his loyalty before. Shame flooded Dietrich for doubting him. "No, I'm not a traitor. But I would probably have gone, if I had thought this message to be real. Sergeant Troy would have had a reason, an honorable reason, and I owe him something. I would have gone."
"But you know it's a ruse, so you just ignore it, right, Herr Hauptmann?"
Dietrich frowned. "I would if I thought I was the only one who got such a letter, but I'm afraid that Troy got one too. He'll be there and walk right into the hands of whoever has set the trap. I have to think of a way to prevent that."
Closing his eyes, the Hauptmann thought about it. He could almost visualise Troy holding a letter, wondering if it really came from him. Dietrich sighed again. If he wanted to warn the American, he had to make sure that Troy would knew that the second message was genuine. But how could he do that without writing something personal and suspicious? He remembered their time in the desert and the arena, and tried to find something that only Troy and he knew about. Something they had talked about or something they had shared .... - A grin lifted his lips. Personal and inconspicuous - he had found it.
"Now we have two letters, what does that tell us?" The sarcasm in Moffitt's voice was lost on Troy.
"That one is genuine and one a trap."
"So how do you decide which is which? The first may be real and somebody learned about it and sent the second. Or the first is a fake and Dietrich sent the second to warn you. So what do you think?"
"Any guesses from your side?" the American asked back.
"No, but I can tell you one thing, the Arab who brought the second one wasn't impressed by anything I said, he insisted on giving the letter only to you." Moffitt sounded at the same time affronted and amused by that fact. "If that one is from Dietrich then nobody knows about the contents but you and him."
"And now you."
Troy compared the two letters and had to admit that they didn't give a clue. The handwriting was not the same but very similar, the text was very short and to the point in both, and both were signed HD.
"You should think that Dietrich would have found a way to tell us which letter was his," the Englishman complained.
"He did," his friend replied and grinned. "The second is by him. He probably got a letter too, but knew it wasn't from me, so he sent this second to make sure I wouldn't walk into a trap."
"So why did he give a new meeting point?"
"So that we can discuss this and think of a way to find the one who's behind it."
"And you'll go."
"Of course." Troy nodded.
Moffitt rolled his eyes in surrender. There was really no point in arguing with Troy once his mind was set, and it was always set where Dietrich was concerned.
"How do you know the second one is from Dietrich?"
Troy grinned but didn't answer. Instead he threw a small pebble into the air and caught it again. It had lain in the second envelope, like a paperweight, small and inconspicuous.
If anyone cared to ask who controlled the small town, the Allied would say it was in British hand, the Germans would answer that soon it will be theirs again and the French might claim that it had always been French .... The Arabs wouldn't comment. In truth it was a neutral zone, no patrols, no questions ....
Still it was officially in Allied territory and Troy knew the risk Dietrich was taking for him. Then again, Dietrich, who spoke French and Arabic fluently, could easily pass himself off as one of the inhabitants, whereas Troy's cover, no matter what he wore, would be blown the moment he had to speak.
So he was grateful that Moffitt had told him exactly where to go and what to do. He stepped inside the coffee house and passed the main room without a glance to the men sitting there. A small staircase led upwards to a room and Troy opened it, slipped inside and locked the door behind him. Only then did he look around, surveying the room. There wasn't much to see: a cot that had seen better days, a small table, and a man in Arab clothes sitting on a chair in a shadowed corner.
When their gazes met, Troy smiled openly and a warmth spread through him as he saw his own delight mirrored in Dietrich's expression before the German dimmed it down to a wry grin.
"So you got my message."
"Yes. Second one in a row."
The officer nodded, accepting what he had already guessed. "I got one too."
"It wasn't very poetic either, right?" Troy said, stepping away from the door to stand in front of the other man.
"No, as a love letter it lacked a certain ... charm," Dietrich replied, his amusement clearly showing in his eyes.
Taking a deep breath, Troy almost shook his head in disbelief at his own reaction to Dietrich's presence. Just standing that close to the German without a gun between them increased his pulse and set his body ablaze. He wouldn't have been able to stop himself from reaching out even if a gun had been pointed at him.
Dietrich jerked away from the touch as if he had been burned. "No!"
Their gazes met again and Troy could see fear, duty and longing fighting for the upper hand in the German's brown eyes. He restored his touch, his hand travelling lightly down the blond's cheekbone.
"No, Troy. We're at war, we're enemies!"
The American shook his head. "No, Hans, we aren't. Neither of us is in uniform nor officially here." He grinned, his fingers stroking the trembling lips. "See it as a holiday from war." Feeling the jawmuscles tightening under his touch he realized his mistake.
Crouching beside the German he grabbed his shoulders and looked straight into his eyes. "I didn't mean it that way, Dietrich. You know you're more than just a pastime for me."
Whatever the German saw in his look must have convinced him, because he relaxed and a faint smile returned to his features. "You know what they will think if we stay here for more than a few minutes?"
Shrugging, Troy stood, loosening his grip. "I'd thought they would think that anyway, isn't that what the room is for?" He motioned to the bed. When Dietrich didn't answer, he pulled him to his feet and into a close embrace. "Please, we might never get the chance again."
"We shouldn't." Looking down at the American, Dietrich made no move to free himself.
"I know we shouldn't, Captain." And for a second, the reality of their situation crashed down on Troy, allowing doubt to creep into his voice. "But it's what we want, right?"
"Yes." And the German underlined his agreement with a kiss that cleared every thought of duty right out of Troy's mind.
He wasn't really aware of his hands taking the clothes off the officer or Dietrich stripping him; all he could sense were the strong hands setting his body on fire, and the warm flesh of the man he'd come to love in his arms.
It was Dietrich who guided them to the cot, pushed the American onto his back and started a sensual trip with his mouth from waistline to neck, leaving a wet trail that did nothing to cool the heat that had taken over Troy's whole being. He knew it would be over soon, the need too long denied, the longing built toward obsession over the last weeks. He tried to tell his lover to slow down, but his voice wouldn't work, and then it was too late as Dietrich reversed his path, his hand touching the hardened shaft, stroking it slowly.
"God!" Troy's fingers dug into the sheet and he bit his lip to clamp down the orgasm that was overwhelming him, his control hanging by a thin thread. He was lost when Dietrich sucked him in, teeth lightly touching his hot flesh, while strong fingers cupped his balls, massaging them firmly. His being exploded and he was thrown into an ocean of colours and warmth, drifting there for a moment bodiless and unburdened, before he returned to reality again, to a sweaty, heavily breathing body and the thunder of his own heartbeat in his ears.
He reached out even before his vision had fully cleared, pulling Dietrich on top of him, tasting his own semen as he kissed him deeply. "That ..., " he said as they broke apart, " ... was fast." Forestalling a comment by laying his fingertips on the German's lips, he added: "But I'm not complaining." Rolling them around so that they now lay on their sides, chest to chest, Troy smiled lovingly at his younger companion. "I don't suppose you're interested in another round?" he quoted from the past, getting a chuckle out of Dietrich.
"Oh, I am, but are you sure that you're up to it?"
The teasing in the officer's voice was like champagne on his senses, bubbles of light flooding his soul. He kissed Dietrich again, molding their bodies close together, trapping the German's cock between his thighs. Dietrich moaned, his hands tangling in the dark hair of his lover.
Exploring the broad back of his companion, Troy's fingers suddenly stilled in shock as he realized what the rough lines on the otherwise smooth skin meant, remembering only too clearly the whipping and the reason for it.
Feeling his lover stiffen and instantly understanding the cause, Dietrich pulled away a little to cup Troy's chin, forcing him to meet his gaze. "It's all right, it doesn't matter."
"It matters," the American contradicted. "I should be the one wearing them."
"They are only scars. They might not look pretty, but they didn't kill me. You, on the other hand, would have died. I prefer it this way."
"I can never repay that." The picture of Dietrich bleeding was still vivid in his mind.
"I would take a whipping every day if it would ensure your survival." It was a statement straight from the heart, shocking in its serenity and calm acceptance, only slightly dimmed by Troy's realization that he felt the same.
How he could love anyone this much was beyond Troy, that he had discovered this love imprisoned in a cave was almost unbelievable, but that it was mutual was a miracle in itself.
It was too much to deal with right now, Troy decided, and retreated to safer ground, returning to his task of exploring and pleasuring the body in his arms. Turning Dietrich onto his back, he kissed along his neck, down one shoulder, his hands roaming the hairless chest. The German moaned in delight as he rolled his nipples between his fingers, and gently sucked at the tender skin above them. His hands wandered lower, massaging the flat belly, straddling the slender hips. His mouth followed its own path, down the ribcage, bathing the belly button, making Dietrich squirm and laugh.
The stiff penis swaying proudly before his eyes drew Troy's attention like a moth to a flame. He heard his lover sigh deeply as his lips closed over the erect shaft, taking it in as far as possible. Slowly he let it slide in and out of his mouth, concentrating on the sounds of pleasure Dietrich made.
Without losing his rhythm, he slid one hand under the firm buttocks, seeking the cleft and the small hole within. Gently he teased the entrance for a moment before he let one finger slip past the ring of muscles, touching the gland inside. For an endless second Dietrich stopped breathing; it seemed as if every nerve, every muscle had tensed, the calm before the storm. Then the tempest hit, shaking his whole body, almost lifting him off the bed. And Troy swallowed everything Dietrich had to offer, delighted and overwhelmed as before by the picture the German presented.
Releasing the softened cock, Troy lay down beside his lover, gathering him close, while the younger man was still trying to slow down his heartbeat. After kissing Dietrich's shoulder, Troy looked up to find the beautiful eyes of his lover worshipping him. He caught his breath. He wasn't surprised by the love and admiration thrown his way, but by the memories the look awoke. He had been gifted with that gaze before, once stuck in a cave, once from beside a tipped over kuebelwagen and even before that - long before they had ever fallen in the hands of the slave traders.
"How long?" he whispered, awed by the recognition. "How long have you loved me?"
For a moment Dietrich closed his eyes, then sighed, a dry smile on his lips. "From our first meeting on, I guess."
"Which one do you mean?" Surely they had met over the barrel of a gun, hardly the situation to fall in love with anybody.
Sitting up, the German stroked lightly through his companion's hair. "I'm not surprised you don't remember. It was before you formed the Rat Patrol, when you were still with that Australian unit. I was just one German prisoner among a dozen others."
They had met when he had been with the Australians? And then he knew, as if it had happened only yesterday.
The laughter of O'Leary and his friends had been overly loud in his ears; for all that the area was supposed to be secured, they knew the Germans to be near. If nothing else the group of German soldiers they had caught earlier that day proved it. He moved closer to see what was so amusing to the men and wasn't happy with what he found.
The Australians stood in a half circle around the prisoners, taunting them with words and throwing pebbles at them. The Germans ignored the tirades and the pebbles, some were too afraid to react, some too tired and some too proud even to acknowledge the Australian soldiers.
With others, the lack of reaction would have caused boredom and eventually the game would have died down. With O'Leary and his friends it was just the opposite. Under the influence of alcohol the tall man always became nasty, feeling the urge to show his superiority to someone. Normally his violent streak was controlled by the tempers of his companions who gave as good as he, but tonight he had found an easy target, a target that was bound and to all appearances frightened and submissive.
The first indication that the game had reached a new level was an empty bottle hitting one of the Germans at the shoulder. The young man cried out and for the first time looked at the Australians, his eyes wide with pain and anger.
Laughing, O'Leary stepped closer. "So's someone in there? Didn't know pigs could cry!" His friends joined his laughter.
"The only pigs I see wear silly hats and stink of cheap whiskey." The German voice, though soft, was clearly heard over the laughter, and in the next second a deadly silence replaced it.
It was impossible to say which soldier had said the words; all of them were now facing their foes, fear and weariness set aside by pride and fury.
Troy could see it in their straightened composure, their clenched fingers; the prisoners had overcome the shell-shock their capture had put them in, and were now prepared to fight back. Now they remembered the discipline and propaganda planted in their minds - they were soldiers, the best, meant to make the way for a new age - they would not break down in front of some enemy garbage, wouldn't put up with an unworthy treatment any longer. It didn't matter that they had been beaten by those enemies before, or that their hands were bound, they were young and eager and invincible. And they were ready to prove it if they got the slightest provocation and with O'Leary standing there it was bound to come.
Troy realized he had to interfere or it would end in a massacre. "O'Leary!" he shouted, stepping nearer until he was beside the Australian. "Enough. The fun is over!"
The dark-haired Australian stared down at him, unbelieving. "Not your business."
"I'm making it mine." Troy wasn't ready to back down. And his determination must have shown on his face, because O'Leary took a step back.
Aware that O'Leary would only give in if his companions did too, Troy glared at them and waved them away. "I'm pretty sure some of you have guard duty now or soon. Better get sober now. The lieutenant is coming by on his rounds any minute, and you know how he is." They scattered away, mumbling unfriendly things about Troy, but they all knew better than to risk the anger of their officer.
Alone, O'Leary took a last look at Troy, then spit at the prisoners and briskly walked away.
Releasing a heartfelt sigh, Troy turned to the Germans; some fell almost immediately back into their weariness, while others seemed almost disappointed that the fight wouldn't happen. But one pair of brown eyes met his gaze openly, a small nod confirmed that the young Leutnant understood what he had done. For a moment he seemed to drown in the honest gaze, felt as if some kind of bond was forged between them, then somebody called for him and the spell was broken.
He had left the camp shortly afterwards, and for the life of him he couldn't remember the face of the young German, but for some weeks brown eyes had haunted his dreams.
Those eyes were now watching him closely, reading the memories in his expression as if he was an open book.
"You saved our lives then, my life. The day I recognized you as the leader of the Rat Patrol I knew that nothing would ever be easy again."
Troy shrugged. "I didn't do much."
"Yes, you did. It was quite impressive how you stood up against that Australian giant ..."
"O'Leary wasn't that tall." The American interrupted, slightly embarrassed.
"Probably not, but it looked that way from my point of view. After all I was weary, frightened and sitting on the ground; even you seemed taller."
"Thanks." Troy grimaced. "But I doubt you were frightened. You looked more annoyed than anything."
Dietrich smiled. So Troy remembered him at last. Did he also remember the look they shared, that one moment of perfection, when their souls had seemed to touch?
"However, I knew the situation was bad and was about to become even worse when you interfered. I was sure that nobody cared about what was happening, but you did."
"You just don't treat prisoners that way; you would have done the same." There was no doubt in the American's tone. "It was the ... honorable thing to do."
"Yes." One hand trailing over the hairy chest, Dietrich leaned closer and kissed his lover softly. "And that's the other thing I have to thank you for. You showed me that there were honorable people on your side too. I had started to doubt it. Provided I had survived that day without your interference and had escaped later, I would probably have treated my enemies as I had been treated. You saved me from losing my honor."
The look on Troy's face was almost comical as he stared in open surprise, then shook his head. "No, no way." He cupped Dietrich's chin and stroked one cheek gently. "You would never behave truly disgracefully. It's just not in your nature."
Sighing, the German leaned into the caress. "I wish I was as sure about myself as you seem to be."
"That's my privilege as your lover and opponent. I know you. So just believe me, okay?"
Instead of giving him an answer Dietrich kissed him thoroughly, then abruptly rolled away and stood. "As much as I'd like to stay this way, our meeting originally had another reason. We should discuss who's behind those letters and how we can stop him." He hated himself for changing the mood so radically but he knew otherwise he would never find the strength to do it, the slightest touch and all reason would flee again. He more sensed than saw Troy's annoyance, but one of them had to bring reality back.
"Right," Troy grumbled, also leaving the cot. "Any ideas who it could be? Because I haven't the foggiest."
"No, I know enough people who would like it if something happened to me, but I cannot think of one who would put such a plan in motion." While they were talking, they sorted through the heap of clothes on the ground, putting them on again.
"How do we find the one behind then? Write another letter and see if he falls for it?"
"That isn't the most brilliant plan, but I admit I haven't come up with anything better." Gifting Troy with a dry smile, Dietrich leaned against the wall. "Whoever wrote those messages will be pretty disappointed that we didn't show up at his rendezvous place. He might guess that a new letter is just a trap and won't react to it. And what's more, he might see those letters as the proof he was after."
"But he can't do anything as long as he doesn't get us together. I think the man hates us - or one of us - very much. He might smell a trap but he will come nevertheless. It's worth a try."
"I agree. So, the first of our letters will contain that we got those other messages but knew they were fakes, and now we think it's time to discuss who's behind them. Does that sound like a good bait?"
"Yeah." Troy grinned wolfishly. "He won't be able to resist that one. So, who writes it?"
"You do. I just say yes."
Now it was Dietrich's turn to grin. "I'm sure Sergeant Moffitt will come up with a good place, don't you think?"
They looked at each other, saw the reluctance to leave mirrored in each others eyes and then they were together, kissing and holding on tight.
"We must go," the German whispered and stepped back.
Nodding, Troy turned to the door and opened it.
He looked back, inquiringly.
"You too." And without another glance the American left.
Shaking his head, Troy surveyed the area again, halting when he discovered a pair of binoculars pointed at him.
"What?" Moffitt asked, grabbing for his own binoculars.
"Somebody is watching us." The American grinned and saluted towards their observer. On his post Dietrich did the same.
"So the only one missing is ..."
"There! Someone's coming."
Glancing at his watch, Moffitt nodded. "That'll be him. After all, he still has to find a good look-out."
"Probably a little closer to the scene of crime," the Englishman commented. "And, which side are they?"
Watching the two jeeps stopping in front of a small house, Troy sighed. "Ours, I'm afraid."
Taking his binoculars up, his friend had to agree. "British." He focused on one stocky officer. "Bloody hell, isn't that Major Bracken?"
"Yeah, it's him. But why?"
"Did you meet him again after the incident with the plasma?" Moffitt wondered.
Troy shook his head. Taking the binoculars down they looked at each other questioningly.
"So it must have something to do with what happened then, right?"
"But you know what happened. He thought of bringing you before a court martial 'cause your action lost him the contaminated plasma to the Germans." Troy glared at his fellow sergeant. "Did I ever tell you that I thought that was a really stupid stunt?"
"You did," Moffitt replied unimpressed. "But you saved me anyway."
"Yes. And I don't tell you what I thought of that stunt. Dunno who's crazier, you or the captain." Shaking his head, Moffitt remembered his astonishment when Troy had appeared in the middle of the British camp with Dietrich in tow. Only Troy could come up with the idea of asking an enemy officer to speak up for a friend. And only Dietrich would trust in Troy's word and be honorable enough to risk his imprisonment for some litres of good plasma.
"I still don't get it. I thought the Major was all right." Troy's words interrupted Moffitt's musings.
"A little bit unpredictable, I'd say, but not a bad officer," the Englishman agreed.
Following his friend's train of thought, Troy nodded. "Yeah, he was a bit strange. First he tells me that I had no right to guarantee Dietrich safe conduct and tries to take him prisoner, and then after Dietrich's attempt to escape he not only sets him free but also grants the plasma. Don't know how his mind works."
Moffitt shrugged. "Maybe that's the problem? Could be some of his superiors didn't believe his story or didn't like the way he handled it. Maybe now he thinks you staged the whole thing just to save me?"
Rubbing the back of his nose, Troy thought about it. "It makes sense in a weird way. I couldn't have got you out without Dietrich's co-operation, so if it was just a ruse, then Dietrich was part of it."
"And getting you two together would prove it. If his way of thinking is as twisted as we believe it is, he might be our man."
"Might be?" Glaring inquiringly at his friend, Troy knew he wouldn't like the forthcoming theory.
"The one who really sent the letters might have smelled a rat and instead of walking into our trap he threw Bracken to the ... rats."
Grimacing at Moffitt's choice of words, the American sighed. "Triple thinking, I hate it."
"But Sergeant Moffitt has a point."
In reaction to the German-accented voice both Allied soldiers whirled around.
"How did you get here?" Troy wanted to know, shocked that Dietrich had gotten that close to them.
"Either your men were sleeping, or they didn't consider me a danger. Knowing them, I'd guess that a gun is trailing my every movement." The amusement was obvious in the officer's tone.
"What do you think, Captain?" Moffitt asked, indicating the scene behind them.
Raising his brows, Dietrich shrugged. "I think you surmised it pretty well. But whoever is behind it is definitely not a German, because then he would have needed more time to play our letters into Major Bracken's hands. So my part in this is over, while yours has just begun."
He saluted to them and was about to turn away, when Moffitt stopped him. "Captain, don't you think you and Troy should agree on some codeword or sign, so that we'll know for sure when a letter is from you?"
"Actually, I see no reason why Sergeant Troy and I should exchange letters in the first place?"
Not able to resist the chance to tease his lover, Troy moaned theatrically. "You disappoint me, Captain. No birthday or Christmas cards?"
Meeting the American's gaze, Dietrich let a wry smile reach his lips. "Should I know your birthday, Sergeant?" He raised a brow. "I guess not. But you know, should I ever feel the urge to write you, I'm sure you'll know it's from me. I don't believe that we need a sign. Sergeants." Gifting them with an open grin, he turned around and left them.
"You know, I really like him," Moffitt said, straightening and taking up his bag.
"So do I." And it sounded more like a sigh than a statement.
"Special delivery service, Sir." Stopping in front of the desk behind which Troy was sitting, Moffitt waved with a small envelope before his friend's eyes.
From the expression on the Englishman's face Troy knew that the letter was from Dietrich. He swallowed nervously. The last time they had met, the German captain and some of his men had posed as the Rat Patrol to get into an Allied Base and blow up the ammunition depot. The real Rat Patrol had been able to stop him, and when Dietrich escaped he took with him what he thought was important information, but was in truth only instructions for a baseball game between the Allied Forces. They had thought it funny, but the Germans wouldn't have seen it that way, and since then, Troy had been afraid what kind of repercussions might have fallen on his lover.
With slightly shaking hands he took the envelope and opened it. Would it be a goodbye note, because German Command had decided that Dietrich had failed once too often, or was it Dietrich's way of telling him that he was all right?
"And? Come on, Troy, I didn't open it this time. What does it say?"
Slowly he read the short sentences.
" Very funny.
I bet on a draw. "
There wasn't a pebble in the envelope nor any initials at the end of the letter; still there was no doubt that it was from the German captain.
"A draw? Not a chance." Grinning Moffitt shook his head.
"It's more likely that some emergency will interrupt the game," Troy commented, allowing a smile to light his features.
"Maybe then it'll end in a draw. I'll place a bet for Dietrich."
About to leave, Moffitt caught Troy's gaze with his and said quietly: "It's very thoughtful of Dietrich to let you know that he's all right."
"What are you implying?" Troy asked sharply.
"Nothing." The Englishman shrugged. "Just that he's a very considerate man."
"If something's bothering you, speak up."
Moffitt tipped at his cap. "I'm your friend, and as your friend I advise you to disguise it."
"Disguise ... what ...?!"
Holding his hands up in surrender, Moffitt stopped Troy's question. "Forget it. I didn't ask before what you and Dietrich were doing for so long in the coffee house and I won't now. What I guess is a total different thing though."
"And?" the American asked warily.
"And? Nothing. Everybody has a right for his private guesses; they are of no one's concern but his own." He grinned, leaning confidentially toward his fellow sergeant. "As I said before. I like him." Straightening, Moffitt saluted and turned away. At the door he looked back and added: "And just that there are no misunderstandings, I also like crazy American sergeants. Well, at least one." With that he was gone.
Staring at nothing in particular, Troy just shook his head. Crazy, Moffitt had called him - that was the pot calling the kettle black. Moffitt, Dietrich, him, it seemed they were all of the same kind - maybe it was the war.
Looking at the letter in his hand he smiled again. There was a free line between two of the sentences, and he wondered if a secret message would appear there if he burned the paper, something he knew he should do. He was tempted to burn it just to see if there was such a secret note, yet at the same time, reluctant to destroy something that bound him to his lover.
In the end Troy decided that a borrowed office in Allied Headquarters wasn't the right place to burn it anyway. He would wait until the Rat Patrol was on a mission again. The endless desert sand should be his witness, not the wall of an office.
Satisfied with his solution, he put the letter into his chest pocket and returned to his paperwork.
© Early 1997